UPDATE: Rabbi Boteach has taken an interest in Jewish Israel's report and graphic presentation (see correspondence between Jewish Israel and Rabbi Boteach)
Last August Jewish Israel reported on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's plans to launch his book "Kosher Jesus". It was clear to us from the outset that Boteach's journey with Christianity's lord and savoir was largely inspired and motivated by an outpouring of Christian love for Israel.
How far and low will a Jewish man go in order to ensure and secure that loving embrace from evangelicals? We're about to find out as "Rabbi Shmuley", sometimes scholar, other times therapist, "rabbi to the stars", iconoclast, and comedian, gets set to take "Kosher Jesus" on his road show. His mission: an attempt to theologically reconcile Judaism with Christianity.
Although the official release date is scheduled for February 1st, the book is already being actively and critically reviewed. Boteach has already been featured at numerous pre-publication press conferences and book launches, both in Israel and the Diaspora. As anticipated, the book has raised the forecasted storm of reactions among Christians and Jews. Jewish Israel will be updating this report as reviews, reactions and denunciations come in.
Two weeks ago week, Eve Harow host of Arutz 7 radio's Judean Eve program, contacted this writer and asked for an interview. Eve had interviewed Shmuley Boteachthe previous week and seemed to fully endorse his new book. She contacted us in search of some balance.
Although we have previously reported on Boteach's efforts, we have not yet read the book, so we requested that Eve also bring Penina Taylor of Shomrei Emet Institute for Counter-Missionary Studies as a guest on her show. Penina has read and reviewed"Kosher Jesus". She covered the theological angle and suggested that Boteach's efforts will be seen as offensive to Christians.
This writer emphasized that the very PR savvy Rabbi Boteach knew too well that this book was going to be judged by its cover. The masses, many of whom will not read the book, will see its provocative cover and title, and assume that an Orthodox rabbi is endorsing jesus, a pagan deity as far as Judaism is concerned, as kosher. Rabbi Boteach wants to turn the Jewish and Christian world upside down on this issue. The title itself is a marketing tease - deliberately misleading and an affront to Jewish dignity and sensitivities.
If it was meant to be a serious scholarly work, then a title such as "A Rabbi Looks at Historical Jesus" would have been more appropriate and the Boteach name certainly would have been a drawing card.
Jewish Israel is fully aware that New Testament studies and Christian theology are legitimate fields for Jewish and Gentile scholars alike, and that Jewish professors like Flusser, Fredrikson, Vermes, Levine and others have all explored the "Jewishness of Jesus" from an academic perspective.
But while Jewish academics may be inspired intellectually, Boteach is admittedly driven by an emotional and grandiose agenda and aspires to break down the barriers between faith communities. The following are just a few of many quotes which illustrate Boteach's theological designs to meld jesus into Judaism and vice versa:
Ironic, irreverent and problematic
The debate is on as to whether or not Boteach's work is heretical, but his approach to a sensitive subject and insistence on wrestling with the forbidden is being deemed irreverent by both Jews and Christians alike.
It has been suggested by some that the best way to make the bestseller list is to get a book banned prior to its release, and Boteach has managed to do just that.
"I have never read a book, let alone one authored by a purported frum Jew, that does more to enhance the evangelical missionary message and agenda than the aforementioned book."
While JewishIsrael will refrain from commenting on the wisdom of book banning, we do note that Boteach's joint venture with jesus runs contrary in every way to what we understand to be the currently accepted halachic position on the matter of interfaith relations. Boteach dismissed the widely accepted halachic approach of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, reportedly claiming, "That was right for his time. It's not right for our time."
Boteach, of course, is kvelling about the benefits of the book ban on Facebook
Jewish Israel's rabbinic director, Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold, has the following message for Boteach:
"Not only is banning books a bad idea, but sometimes writing them is too."
It's intriguing that banned books have been making headlines this week, with Joseph Lelyveld and Salman Rushdiejoining Boteach in the bestselling censured author's club.
What all three authors have in common is their ability to trample religious sensitivities in the name of freedom of expression. Two of the three censured authors are Jews who felt knowledgeable and confident enough to tamper with the revered icons of other cultures and religions (Lelyveld touched upon intimate sexual matters, concerning Mahatma Gandhi, in his book "Great Soul".)
Boteach, who touts himself as "one of the world's leading relationship experts", should perhaps consider that elephants and gorillas sometimes sit in rooms to ensure respectful and fruitful relationships between parties who are deeply committed to diametrical points of view. Not everything has to be touched or engaged.
"Christian Zionist" leader David Parsons, media director of Jerusalem's International Christian Embassy (ICEJ) and contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, was clearly offended by Boteach's creative spin on Jesus and trashing of the new testament, as evidenced by his book review which appeared in last weekend's Jerusalem Post Magazine:
"Boteach's assault on the integrity of the New Testament is not the disciplined science of textual criticism…Rather, this is a wholesale shredding of the New Testament, based on pure conjecture on an agenda-driven imagination."
That's a pretty harsh retort to a man who penned a book out of a love for Christian evangelicals and a desire for a theological union with them.
Missionaries and messianics welcome the publication.
Some may be led to believe that Boteach's book is providing an essential educational tool with which Jews can respond to missionary overtures. Indeed, much of his book focuses on de-deifying jesus and taking a counter-missionary stance. But ironically and quite sadly, the book is being praised by missionary and messianic organizations which target Jews for conversion. Jews for Jesus and a number of messianic organizationshave expressed excitement about the book because it is indicative of a new openness towards the gospels:
" …. You can see that the movement towards accepting the true person of Jesus is not complete, but it should be encouraging to us none-the-less. If Jewish people overcome their abhorrence of the Gospels and begin to investigate what Jesus actually had to say, this can only be good news to the people of Israel." (oneforisrael.org)
But this reaction was also anticipated by Boteach, as he has Christian apologist and missionary extraordinaire, Michael Brown featured prominently in an opening page endorsementof "Kosher Jesus".
Brown shows up in a gushing acknowledgment, too. Boteach professes his love for his "dear friend" and "my debating partner Dr. Michael Brown, a Jew who converted to Christianity and is now a Christian scholar and missionary who runs a renowned missionary school…" Apparently "savage debates" are followed by "warm dinners".
Jewish Israel and those in the field of counter-missionary workare concerned that an ill-prepared Jewish community, which is neither adept at the art of Christian polemics nor well-versed in their own traditions and Tanach, will now be engaging their time and efforts in inept attempts to explore Jesus and debate Christian scripture.
Counter Missionary Claims and Consensus
Boteach claims that he is at "the forefront of combating efforts to evangelize Jews and reverse the trend by bringing Jews who have converted to Christianity back to Judaism". He cites as proof, "tens of audio and video debates with leading Christian missionaries all over the world"
Jewish Israelcontacted the leading counter-missionary professionals in the field, representing a number of organizations and asked them if Boteach is effective in bringing Jews back via his debates and if they considered him at "the forefront" of counter-missionary efforts?
This is the considered opinion of a consortium of counter-missionary activists working worldwide to confront the missionary challenge:
"Brown has the upper hand emotionally, psychologically as well as substantively. He presents a plethora of arguments to advance his position which for the most part go unchallenged by Shmuley. Unless someone came to the debate with their mind made up against Christianity, Brown would win on points.
It is impossible to imagine Shmuley being the counter-missionary that he claims to be when the missionaries keep inviting him back to debate and selling the CDs of the programs. He is simply blinded to the possibility that he is being used and exploited."
Boteach is already scheduled for another round with Brown, centered around "Kosher Jesus". It will be debate number twenty and scheduled for March 13th.
Kosher J. in LA and behind the bus station in Jerusalem
True to form, Boteach, the "rabbi to the stars", will be launching his book in Beverly Hills this week. The event is being billed as "The West Coast Launch of Rabbi Shmuley's Blockbuster and Controversial Book Kosher Jesus"
But light years away from Beverly Hills, located behind Jerusalem's central bus station, is a modest building housing Gefen Publishing, the publishers of "Kosher Jesus".
This writer spoke with Ilan Greenfield, owner of Gefen Publishing House a few years ago - just prior to their publishing a Hebrew version of David Brog's book "Standing with Israel". At the time Greenfield explained to me that the Christian book market showed great promise, whereas the Jewish market was at a standstill or worse.
It seems Gefen has indeed entered the Christian market and waded into the kind of waters traditionally reserved for John the Baptist. The Israel Trade Commission in Sydney Australia is featuring two of Gefen's titles for children: Jesus is Alive! The empty Tomb in Jerusalem and John 3:16 Jesus and Nicodemus in Jerusalem. And then you have The Jesus’ Family Tree Poster, which "traces lineages from Jesus Christ all the way back to Adam and Eve!"
Forget Jesus, we have bigger problems
An entire section of "Kosher Jesus" is dedicated to "Restoring Judeo-Christian values". In Judeo-Christian tradition, Boteach writes, "Jesus is the hyphen that unites us."
Jewish Israel feels that the hyphen may actually be a minus symbol, or an indication to "fill in the blank". According to Rav J.B. Soloveitchik, z"l, the missing link is "Hellenistic":
"People confuse two concepts when they speak of a common tradition uniting two faith communities such as the Christian and the Judaic…As a matter of fact, our Western heritage was shaped by a combination of three factors, the classical, Judaic, and Christian, and we could readily speak of a Judeo-Hellenistic-Christian tradition within the framework of our Western civilization."
Boteach's "Judeo-Christian "obsession may ultimately be more disturbing and destructive than any exploration and/or reinvention of Jesus. This is because the average committed Jew remains unimpressed by the persona of Jesus (unlike certain rabbis), but they arelikely concerned about Jewish continuity and the threat of spiritual assimilation via a crossing of theological lines between faiths.
Jesus may very well be good for the Christians, but he's not for the Jews. And while all Jews appreciate upstanding, moral Gentiles, the Christian messagedoes not reverberate in the Jewish heart and soul. We turn to our own ethical teachings, which were custom-made for us.
Boteach may find that in his attempt to hurdle over the barriers, put in place to protect Jewish tradition, he could trip and collide into some pretty solid foundations.
Shmuley Boteach could very well make a dent in the annals of Jewish history. He may go down in the record books as the radical rabbi who, in clinging to and depending upon a foreign "judeo-christian" tradition and invention, trampled religious sensitivities, overturned accepted halachic boundaries, and left his own people in the dark and confused.
Alternatively, Boteach could find his new venture utterly rejected and summarily relegated to history's dustbin, with a few souls vaguely recalling that it was with the publication of "Kosher Jesus" that Shmuley Boteach jumped the shark into obscurity.
Correspondence between Jewish Israel and Rabbi Boteach
Rabbinic reactions and counter-missionary reviews
IT'S YOUR OWN MESS SHMULEY - DON'T USE ME TO CLEAN IT UP Rabbi Michael Skobac
“Kosher Jesus” – A Book Review Rabbi Eli Cohen of Jews for Judaism Australia.
Boteach's Book: when Kosher isn't Kosher Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Letter regarding "Kosher Jesus" Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Schochet
Not Everything Is as Kosher as It Seems Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet
Is Jesus Really Kosher? Lawrence H. Schiffman
Kosher Jesus, Treif Christianity Yehuda Ilan
Kosher Jesus Reviewed Gil Student in Jewish Action
Other opinions and reports
Shoving 'Kosher Jesus' Down Jews' Throats Eliyahu Federman
Rabbis face off over book about ‘Kosher Jesus’ Randy Boswell
Kosher Jesus Avakesh
Three Easy Steps to a Kosher Jesus Hirhurim Musings
Kosher Jesus?! Rabbi in the Middle of America
"Christian Zionist" book review
Beware of the Bar-Kokhba Jesus David Parsons
Scholar of Christian and Jewish Studies review
It's "Kosher" to Accept Real Jesus Adam Gregerman